February is American Heart Month, so naturally, on February 1st, the Philadelphia 76ers hosted their annual “Go Red Night.” As we walked in the venue, we were given a Go Red for Women sticker and a postcard to record the name of a loved one that has experienced heart problems. Throughout the game, the crowd was educated about the stark reality that sudden cardiac arrest is the #1 cause of death in this country. We learned about what women should look for and how they should modify their lifestyles for better heart health.
I was struck by three things. First, there were a lot of kids at the basketball game. Second, there was no mention about heart health for kids. After all, couldn’t the #1 killer of women in this country be prevented at some level by teaching little girls about heart health too? Third, as we sat watching these athletes compete, there was no mention of the fact that sudden cardiac arrest is the #1 cause of death of student athletes. Every player on that court was a student athlete at some point, just like many of the children in the crowd.
The NBA is great backdrop to discuss the issue of heart health because conditions that lead to sudden cardiac arrest have impacted several players: Yinka Dare (died), Eddy Curry (surgery), Reggie Lewis (died), Ronny Turiaf (surgery), Kevin Duckworth (died), Cuttino Mobley (retired), Etan Thomas (surgery), Jason Collier (died), Robert Traylor (died), Zeijko Rebraca (retired), Fred Hoiberg (surgery) and Mikahil Torrance (retired).
In 2006, the NBA set the standard on fighting sudden cardiac arrest and protecting its players as it became the first major sports league to institute mandatory heart screenings. Since, the other leagues have followed. The implementation of this measure, which actually exceeds the recommendations of the American Heart Association, has saved lives.
Just last year, LaMarcus Aldridge of the Portland Trailblazers was diagnosed with Wolff-Parkinsons-White Syndrome. He underwent a medical procedure. Jeff Green of the Boston Celtics discovered an aortic aneurism and underwent surgery to correct the problem. Chuck Hayes of the Sacramento Kings failed his physical due to a heart condition. He was later cleared to play and recorded two rebounds and one assist in last night’s game against the 76ers. It’s pretty amazing, that last year, in a league of 450 players, almost one percent of them discovered heart conditions as a result of the heart screening requirement.
This year, at least two players from the Phoenix Suns are sidelined due to heart conditions – Jermaine O’Neal and Channing Frye.
Sudden cardiac arrest may be the indisputable leading cause of death of adults in the U.S; however, it also kills thousands of children every year too. To address this problem, Simon’s Fund, and other nonprofit organizations around the country, provide free heart screenings to students. If it is good enough for the NBA, isn’t it good enough for our kids? In fact, at our screenings, we find that one out of every 100 students we screen discovers a heart condition. Sounds a little bit like the NBA stats.
The benefits of screening the hearts of our kids are supported by medical research too. Back in the 1980’s, the Italians started screening the hearts of all school-aged children. As a result, the incidence of sudden cardiac death in kids has been reduced by 89%.
February is American Heart Month, but in our effort to raise awareness about heart disease, we need to stop pretending that adults are the only ones with hearts. Prevention should start with our kids, not with our mothers and fathers that may have already spent a lifetime abusing or ignoring their hearts, particularly since sudden cardiac arrest causes thousands of our kids to just drop dead.
It’s time for us to follow in the footsteps of the NBA and the Italians and start checking our kids’ hearts. It’s time for us to Go Krimson for Kids.